Turkey's olive growers protest Eurogold development project

April, 2007

Value Based Learning

The account that follows describes the struggle between olive growers in Turkey and Eurogold, a French based conglomerate. It is is based on an article in the Sierra Magazine that asks what human rights have to do with environmental protection.

Scroll down to the end of the article for questions based on the Earth Charter’s ethical principles which you can use to analyze the struggle.

One November day in 1996, a line of logging trucks rumbled into an old olive-growing region of Turkey, near the ancient Pillars of Pergamum. The government-paid loggers had come to clear land for a new gold-mining project sponsored by the French-based conglomerate Eurogold. But they were able to fell only about 2,500 trees before a small group of incensed olive growers got in their way. The stand-off lasted for months, to the increasing annoyance of Eurogold and the Turkish government. Early this April, out rolled the logging trucks and in rolled a line of tanks.

The confrontation had been years in the making. When Eurogold first proposed the mine in 1993, the farmers had been willing to listen. But after preliminary drilling rendered their water undrinkable for four months, they ended negotiations and started protesting. Backed by environmental and human-rights groups in Turkey, Germany, and the United States, the farmers filed a legal appeal and then began to familiarize themselves with cyanide heap-leaching, Eurogold's planned mining technique.

Eurogold, meanwhile, had launched a public-relations campaign designed to convince the farmers that their concerns were backward and outdated. At a public meeting in Ankara, Turkey's capital, one company representative even went so far as to claim-falsely-that "an influential group in the United States called the Sierra Club" had recently endorsed the use of cyanide in gold mining. But the farmers quickly rebuffed this and other misleading assertions at meetings of their own, to which they invited the 300,000 people who live near the mine site, next to the old Asia Minor city now called Bergama. They pointed out, for instance, that Eurogold's "leakproof" tailings pond would in fact be situated on an active fault line. When the olive growers organized a referendum on the mine last year, nine of ten eligible voters in the immediate vicinity turned out. Not one voted in favor of the project.

The farmers were prepared, then, when the tanks descended on Bergama. They immediately countered with a peaceful demonstration that involved 10,000 people and 1,000 tractors. At this point, if the Turkish government had used force to repress citizens exercising their basic civil rights, it would have compromised its claim to democracy. Within days, Turkey's highest administrative court had declared the mine unconstitutional, shutting it down completely.

Given Eurogold's financial resources and the Turkish government's desperation to attract foreign investment, the farmers will probably have further battles to fight. But the court's watershed decision has international implications. The judges ruled that Eurogold's mine violates the provision of Turkey's recently amended constitution that protects every Turk's fundamental right to a healthy, intact environment. They set a precedent, in other words, for regarding pollution not as a matter to be debated among technicians but as an issue of basic human rights.

Excerpted from 'A Planet Unfree: What do human rights have to do with environmental protection?'  by Aaron Sacks. Retrieved 4/2007 from

 A value-based ethical framework for evaluating social and ecological events, conditions and practices  Anita L. Wenden
gical sustainability
• How would Earth’s resources, her life-supporting systems and various forms of natural life be affected by Eurogold’ proposed gold mining project?
• Are attempts being made to remediate ill effects of gold mining ? to ensure the preservation of Earth’s sources of water for future generations?

• Did Eurogold’s gold mining project lead to conflict? If yes, between which groups? Why? What were the needs of each group?
• Was the conflict ignored? Were power imbalances and oppressions endured?
• If not, what means were taken by the government to resolve it? by the olive tree growers ? Eurogold? Was physical force or aggression used? psychological violence? Or nonviolent means? If so, what were they?
• Is conflict still possible?

Social Justice
• Are the government’s power and wealth used to benefit all the groups in the area? to ensure that they have access to what human rights allow?
• What about Eurogold? is their power and wealth used to benefit all the groups in the area? to ensure that they have access to what human rights allow?
• Or do both the government and the mining company use their power and wealth in such a way that human rights are violated? If so, which groups are suffering the impact of this violation? How? Which rights are being violated?

Intergenerational Equity
• How will Earth resources and Earth’s life supporting systems be affected if development projects such as gold mining and others, continue into the future ?
• How will this affect the wellbeing of people? social stability and harmony ?

Participatory Decision-making
• In dealing with this problem, have the concerns of individuals and groups who will be affected by the Eurogold project been solicited? Have their suggestions been taken into account?
• Have citizens taken their own actions to deal with the problem?


What do human rights have to do with environmental protection? Do you agree with Turkey’s constitution that pollution is a matter of human rights?  Share your views with a friend and/or